Chapter 99: A Crown of Crows

A stiff breeze blew loose rose petals along the balcony’s curved wall that circled the courtyard below. A flutter of wings proceeded two more crows that glided and wove among the balcony pillars towards them. The dark fiends made no effort to dodge Carina and pecked viciously at her bouquet as she stumbled back out of their path into Percy.

Taceo!” Percy hissed as he wrapped his arms around her.

Carina could feel her heart thudding beneath Percy’s arms. The crows flew past and settled onto the balcony beside their friend, who squawked loudly in greeting.

‘Great, now there are three.’

“Sorry,” Percy whispered against her ear. “They are—”

“Impertinent,” Carina finished as she pushed free of his grasp and stepped away.

Percy laughed and extracted a black feather from her hair. “Perhaps they are simply eager to meet you.”

“Eager? I don’t think they like me at all,” Carina muttered as she avoided his gaze and plucked another stray feather from her bouquet. “They certainly don’t like flowers.”

“Then I suppose it’s a good thing I brought another gift for you,” Percy replied as he reached inside his jacket and pulled out a jewelry box.

“Wait!” Carina held a hand up quickly as she eyed the suspicious object. “I really can’t accept another gift from you. Your mother may be my mentor—but we are barely acquaintances.”

“It’s only a necklace, Lady Maura,” Percy countered with an amused chuckle as he nudged the clasp aside and opened the velvet case. A peerless rose diamond encircled by a thin white-gold chain sparkled as it refracted the muted sunlight. “It’s called the Winter Rose. A royal heirloom that was entrusted to the Hawthorne family over a century ago.”

Carina gawked at the expensive jewel. The diamond’s intricate form seemed closer to resembling a snowflake than a rose. Somehow, the more Carina stared at the shadows trapped within its translucent shape, the more entranced she became. ‘Wait—did he say Royal Heirloom?’

“Lord Percy—I can’t—” she shook her head and self-consciously touched her neck, where her fingers brushed across the golden chain. “Your cousin, Crown Princess Eleanora, recently gifted this necklace to me.” She tugged the scorpion medallion free and held it up with an apologetic smile. “It would be rude of me to wear—”

The golden chain vibrated between her fingers and then, inexplicably, shattered. Carina gasped as the black-gold scorpion vanished into the lavender petals of her bouquet.

She searched the roses frantically and then scanned the floor in disbelief as an uneasy suspicion ran through her. “How did—”

“Oh dear,” Percy murmured with surprise. “It probably got caught on a thorn. Well, until you get that fixed—” he pulled the diamond rose from the box “—I think this jewel suits you much better.”

“Percy—” Her protest was battered by loud, angry squawks from the crows—of which there were now five?

‘Where do they keep coming from?’

Percy slid behind her with unnerving grace and draped the necklace around her neck. Carina’s throat tightened, and a spark of cold rippled through her as the diamond rose tapped against her chest. Percy’s warm fingers brushed against the hair at her neck as he fastened the jewel in place.

“You should wear this always.” Carina’s heart fluttered erratically as he whispered against her ear. The Earl’s hands trailed down her arms as his breath warmed the nape of her neck.

“Lord Percy, it’s too—” A buzzing ring filled Carina’s ears. Her thoughts jumbled beneath a breathless wave of disorienting lightheadedness. She swayed unsteadily as her body seemed to sink into a pool of numbness. The balcony around her spun into a dance of light and dark shadows. The ringing continued to echo loudly as it clashed against her rising heartbeat and then faded.

“It’s alright,” Percy whispered.

Carina’s senses returned as the balcony came into focus. She had not fallen, though the sensation still filled her numb limbs. The Earl held her firmly against him with an arm around her waist and shoulders.

“The necklace is enchanted,” Percy explained softly as he tipped her head back against his shoulder. “The effects you are feeling right now are temporary and will wear off quickly. What’s important is that the enchantments will keep your witch powers hidden should the church ever come looking for you.”

Carina closed her eyes. Her body felt trapped in a fog, here but not here as if her soul might slip free at any moment. She barely felt the rose thorns prick against her fingers as she silently crushed the bouquet in her hands.

The meaning behind his words suddenly registered, and Carina’s eyes snapped open. She turned her head sluggishly and gazed into his winter-gray eyes. “How—how did you—” she slurred.

“Ivy told me,” Percy answered as he gently brushed the hair from her face.

‘Ivy?’ Carina shook her head as she tried to clear the fog that muffled her thoughts. ‘Why would Ivy—tell him?’

“We ran into a priest and his witch hunter,” Percy explained as he studied her face intently. “They were looking for Lincoln Turnbell’s family—specifically his sister.”


“Ivy and I put two and two together. She realized you were in trouble and confided in me,” Percy continued as he stroked his fingers down her cheek. “Though to be fair—I already knew.”

Carina could feel her lips tremble as she tried and failed to form a response.

“You want to know how I knew?” Percy asked softly as he smiled down at her. Carina blinked and nodded drunkenly.

The more she looked into the webbed rings of his gray eyes, the more mesmerized she became by the sound of his voice. The uncomfortable numbness seemed to be lifting—and yet Carina felt as if she were slipping deeper into a dream.

Percy cupped her face against his shoulder and gently leaned his forehead against hers. “Because, Maura,” he murmured as his voice deepened. “I am also a witch.”

Disbelief, suspicion, and understanding cut through the fog in her mind as Percy closed his eyes and exhaled slowly.

“I have wanted to tell you—for such a long time,” he whispered.

The crows fluttered around them with a victorious cry. Carina glanced uneasily at the black fiends and then stared blearily across the Rose Palace’s sloped marble roof towards the palaces, ministry, and fortress walls beyond. Her heart plummeted as her gaze dropped to the distant courtyard and chess tiles below them.

Panic snapped her limbs awake. Carina dropped the bouquet as she clutched the Earl’s shoulders. “Percy—how are we—” She watched the lavender roses flutter helplessly before they scattered across the chessboard below. “Are we flying?!”

“We are,” he replied with a sly grin. “I told you, I’m a witch. Do you believe me now?”

“I don’t—like heights—” Carina replied grimly as she pressed her closed eyelids against his shoulder. “Please take me back down—someone will see us!”

“No one will see us up here,” Percy replied confidently as he tightened his left arm around her waist. “Watch this,” he added with a hint of mischief.

Carina’s fingers tightened against his frame as she took in a deep breath and then turned her cautious gaze towards his extended right hand. The death notice fluttered up from the balcony below and hovered in the air before them.

Percy’s cheek brushed against hers as he leaned closer and whispered, “Fustibus Saxisque.”

The wind hissed around them as the envelope trembled for barely half a second and then exploded. The scattered remains drifted down to the courtyard below like ash and snow.

The violence in that single moment made Carina’s heart stop as she recalled the way the golden chain had vibrated around her neck moments ago.

“Not only can I teach you how to govern a province—but I can help you master the magic you were born with,” Percy explained confidently as they slowly descended towards the courtyard. “If you still want revenge on what remains of the Turnbell family, I can help you achieve that as well.”

Carina shivered, even as her feet found solid ground between them.

“I can help you obtain anything you wish, Maura. Power, wealth, and more if you’ll let me,” Percy whispered as his arms tightened around her.

Carina clenched her jaw to stop it from trembling as she struggled to still her spinning thoughts. “I just want—to survive,” she whispered.

Percy’s grip around her waist relaxed as he sighed into her hair. “I am no threat to you, Maura. And I will never let anything like Lincoln happen to you ever again.”

Anger clawed past confusion as Carina broke free from his arms and turned to face him. “I did not ask for your help,” she hissed as she fumbled with the clasp of the necklace. “I did not need you then—I don’t need you now.”

Percy grabbed her hands and held her firm as she struggled to pull away. “It’s fine if you won’t ask for my help,” he whispered urgently. “I promise you that one day, very soon, witches won’t have to hide who we are anymore. But until then—please keep wearing the necklace.”

Carina sucked in a breath as confusion and anxiety battled against her still trembling heart. “What do you mean?”

There was no denying the change in him. Like a veil of cold emotion had suddenly been pulled away. The confidence in his tone, the warmth and concern in his eyes, held more passion than Carina had ever witnessed from the Earl before.

“Oh, Maura.” Percy smiled down at her gently as the wind played with his dark mahogany hair. “Did you honestly believe you were that alone?” He stepped closer, and once more, his winter-gray eyes held Carina beneath their spell.

The crows left the rooftop and flew above them in a tight circle. Their flight pattern creating the illusion of a dark crown above Percy’s head as the Earl twisted his fingers through the curls of Carina’s hair and murmured, “You are far, far from alone.”


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